FOOTBALL: Former basketball star Noreen will return to Bemidji State for football, turns down 49ers offer
BEMIDJI -- It is considered a longshot at best to make the jump from Division II athletics to professional sports.
Former BSU basketball player Zach Noreen (2010-14) recently was offered a chance to earn that opportunity, but it was not the National Basketball Association that was calling.
Instead, it was the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League, who invited Noreen to take part in the team’s organized team activities this week.
After long consideration, Noreen decided to turn down the 49ers offer and return to BSU, where he will use the remainder of his eligibility playing for the football team.
If Noreen had chosen to attend the workouts, he would have lost the last year of his NCAA eligibility.
“I did not see this opportunity coming from a smaller Division II school,” Noreen said. “I talked with past players who regret leaving early and wished that they would have used their last year of eligibility.”
So how did a basketball player from a small college that has not stepped on a football field since high school catch the eye of a NFL team?
According to Noreen, 49ers general manager and BSU graduate Trent Baalke was in town to watch his daughter, Cassie Baalke -- of the women’s basketball team -- play. Luckily for Noreen, Baalke stuck around to watch Noreen and the rest of the men’s team.
“He was watching the men’s game and thought I had the attributes to be a tight end,” Noreen said.
The two met briefly, but had no official talks of a tryout. A member of the 49ers front office called Noreen last week with the offer to participate in the OTAs.
The offer to compete for a NFL roster spot came with only a couple of weeks of practice experience with the Beavers football team.
“Spring ball was great,” Noreen said. “I had a lot of fun being out there with all new teammates and learning a whole new game.”
Noreen said he had decided to play football in the upcoming fall early in the spring, before learning the NFL may be a possibility.
When he was contacted by the 49ers, Noreen was slightly confused, thinking the team may have mistaken him for his brother, Seth, who played tight end at St. Cloud State.
Zach credits Seth for teaching him the game and fundamentals of playing the tight end position.
“My brother Seth, who played at SCSU, helped me immensely,” Noreen said. “I give him all the credit for getting me in shape and eating healthy. We have been doing a lot of football drills focusing on footwork and balance, as well as just learning the game.”
Noreen made it clear he still considers the NFL as an option for his future. He said the fact that at least one NFL team may have interest in him come next spring will provide even more motivation for him to train harder and help the Beavers in the fall.
“I decided not to go because I have a year left of eligibility and schooling,” Noreen said. “I want to finish my career as a Beaver and help the football team in any way that I can.”